Master Steak beat Fighters to lead fi­nals

The Phnom Penh Post - - SPORT - HS Man­ju­nath

ONE of Ph­nom Penh’s tough­est bas­ket­ball out­fits, Ex­tra Joss Fighters, de­ter­mined to end their “fi­nals hoodoo’’ which has seen them lose three show­downs in the last five years, went down 71-76 to Master Steak in the first game of the 2018 CCC Bas­ket­ball Tro­phy on Sun­day night.

Beaten by just one point by the Fighters dur­ing the reg­u­lar round robin phase of this CCC sum­mer event, Master Steak gained their re­venge to take a gi­ant step to­wards the ti­tle.

They need a win on Oc­to­ber 14 in the sec­ond game of the three-game fi­nals to clinch the deal.

In the more leisurely league phase and the play­offs, the Fighters had built an aura of in­vin­ci­bil­ity, en­ter­ing the ti­tle round with an all-win record. But that came crash­ing down de­spite the side putting up a stiff fight all the way.

A player of good stand­ing from the Philip­pines, Ai­mar Sabayo, com­bin­ing well with Janno Cun­na­man, kept the fighters on the hop in the early stages but that in­tense first quar­ter also saw the youth­ful com­bi­na­tion of the Humphery Gabriel (18) and Justin Alphonso (15) keep the Fighters go­ing to get to five points be­hind their ri­vals.

Master Steak had a four­point lead at half-time largely due to vet­eran Gadaffi and his pro­tege Gabriel do­ing good work in the heart of a 2-3 de­fen­sive set-up which reined in Sabayo and Cun­na­man.

But Dong Mengh­mal and Saguil’s long rangers kept Master Steak ahead.

Drag­ons out­smart Bayon

Fighters coach Ok­ta­vianus Hauw opted for three big men, bring­ing KC Slam Duke, Gadaffi and Gabriel into the back three, with Alphonso and Rayson Balles­tero on top.

It proved ef­fec­tive as Master Steak be­gan to find it hard to drive through and had to re­sort to out­side shoot­ing, open­ing up chances for Fighters to make fast tran­si­tion.

Even as the Fighters drew level at 58 points each, both Gadaffi and Slam Duke were head­ing for trou­ble with four per­sonal fouls apiece, prompt­ing the coach to take one of them off the court with seven min­utes to run on the clock.

Master Steak took ad­van­tage of this gap­ing hole as their ri­vals pre­sented them with no less than three turnovers in suc­ces­sion. Cun­na­man (17) and Sabayo (20) rel­ished these open­ings and Steak were back on top by seven points with three min­utes left.

The rest was about hold­ing on to the lead.

Ear­lier in the day, Smart Drag­ons out­smarted Bayon 86-65 in the fifth and sixth place play­offs, while Saiyan left it late be­fore see­ing off UYFC Siem Reap 61-57 to win the third and fourth place play­offs.

SUP­PLIED

Ex­tra Joss Fighters’ Humphery Gabriel dunks dur­ing his team’s loss to Master Steak.

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